What a contrast does this species of instruction exhibit, to the ordinary course of scholastic education! There, every lesson that is prescribed, is a source of indirect warfare between the instructor and the puñil, the one professing to aim at the advancement of him that is taught, in the career of knowledge, and the other contemplating the effect that is intended to be produced upon him with aversion, and longing to be engaged to any thing else, rather than in that which is pressed upon his foremost attention. In this sense a numerous school is, to a degree that can scarcely be adequately described, the slaughter-house of mind. It is like the undertaking, related by Livy, of Accius Navius, the augur, to cut a whetstone with a razor—with this difference, that our modern schoolmasters are not endowed with the gift of working miracles, and, when the experiment falls into their hands, the result of their efforts is a pitiful miscarriage. Knowledge is scarcely in any degree imparted. But, as they are inured to a dogged assiduity,. and persist in their unavailing attempts, though the shell of science, so to speak, is scarcely in the smallest measure penetrated, yet that inestimable gift of the author of our being, the sharpness of human faculties, is so blunted and destroyed, that it can scarcely ever be usefully employed even for those purposes which it was originally best qualified to effect.
A numerous school is that mint from which the worst and most flagrant libels on our nature are incessantly issued. Hence it is that we are taught, by a judgment everlastingly repeated, that the majority of our kind are predestinated blockheads.
Not that it is by any means to be recommended, that a little writing and arithmetic, and even the first rudiments of classical knowledge, so far as they can be practicably imparted, should be withheld from any. The mischief is, that we persist, month after month, and year after year, in sowing our seed, when it has already been fully ascertained, that no suitable and wholsome crop will ever be produced.
But what is perhaps worse is, that we are accustomed to pronounce, that that soil, which will not produce the crop of which we have attempted to make it fertile, is fit for nothing. The majority of boys, at the very period when the buds of intellect begin to unfold themselves, are so accustomed to be told that they are dull and fit for nothing, that the most pernicious effects are necessarily produced. They become half convinced by the ill-boding song of the raven, perpetually croaking in their ears; and, for the other half, though by no means assured that the sentence of impotence awarded them is just, yet, folding up their powers in inactivity, they are contented partly to waster their energies in pure idelness and sport, and partly to wait, with minds scarcely half awake, for the moment when their true destination shall be opened before them.